SEC teleconference: Cal happy to be back home

John Calipari spoke on the Southeastern Conference’s weekly teleconference on Monday, as he does every week. We’ve got the pertinent quotes from Coach Cal’s appearance along with comments from Frank Martin, whose South Carolina team plays at Rupp Arena on Tuesday.

Coach Cal

On the upcoming week …
“I was surprised we were at home this week. We’ve been on the road four of five games. I thought we were just a road team. I didn’t think we played home games, but it’s good to be back. We’re playing two scrappy teams. When you watch them, they fight like heck. Frank’s done a great job of putting a team on the floor that’s going to play the best way they can to win games and muck up the game and be really aggressive and do stuff that they have to do to give themselves a chance. And (Auburn head coach) Tony (Barbee) has done the same. We’ve got two tough games for us.”

On the value of having a rim protector over the two years in Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel …
“What happens is it’s hard to just say we’re going to drive the ball and get to the lane; we’re going to just post the ball. It makes it difficult. You’ve got to take more perimeter shots and you’ve got to take more pull-ups, which is why our field-goal percentage defense the last two years has been what it has been. When those two were out of the game, it was amazing how many layups were shot, even this year or last year. We have Willie (Cauley-Stein) as another big guy that even makes us bigger at times. But those guys change a little bit of the complexion of the game.”

To be a more physical team, John Calipari said his players have to want to relish that style. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)

On the physical nature of Saturday’s game at Texas A&M …
“We’re working on it every day, and we’ve got guys that don’t want that kind of game, and until you relish playing in that type of game, you’re going to look like you’re passive, soft or whatever you want to say. You have to want that. And then you look a kid like the (Scottie) Wilbekin kid at Florida. He relishes that kind of game, and all of a sudden it all starts with him and what he does and how he moves the ball, both on offense and defense. On pick-and-rolls, you’ve got to want to drive that man into that screen. You want to come off there and get to the lane and get bumped. You want that action. If you don’t want that action, those games, they have a big affect on the game, the physical-ness of the game. And inside, you got to say, ‘I’m going to meet it before it meets me.’ And if you’re not ready or you’re not wanting it, normally you’re behind the action. And we’re working on it. We’ve got a young team. Last year, it took us time. The year before it took us time. My first year we had a pretty physical team.”

On still figuring things out …
“Ryan (Harrow) was out early, now Willie was out. We’re trying to get guys to play up to their abilities, so we’ve been in flux the whole year. We have not settled in to, OK, here’s who we are. We’re playing hard, we’re playing a little tougher, we’re executing a little bit better. Guys, individuals are playing a little bit better, but we’re still in flux.”

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

On the upcoming week …
“Obviously traveling to Lexington, playing in one of the greatest basketball environments of all time. We’re excited for the opportunity, and then follow that up with a Tennessee team that’s as physical and as good defensively as any we’ve played all year. Just another week of no-nonsense conference basketball.”

On his impressions of UK’s guard play …
“I think Cal’s done an unbelievable job. You’re talking about two guys, one that’s a transfer (Julius Mays) and the other one that sat out all of last year (Harrow). I think Cal’s done an incredible job in just getting those kids to continue to grow. Being a guard is hard, and it’s not like they’ve got upperclassmen around them that make their transition a little easier. Mays, it’s also his first year around Cal, so I’m sure he learns something every single day that he did not know the day before. Having all those young kids, when you think about it — (Alex) Poythress, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley, they’ve dealt with injuries — they’re all freshmen. So those young kids are trying to learn and those guards are trying to learn. There’s really no one there to help them through those moments, so I think Cal’s done an incredible job like he always does.”

On UK’s defense other than Noel …
“It starts up top. Their ball pressure, it’s hard to break them down, so when you do break them down, it’s not a big crack. And then you’ve got the human eraser back there that protects the rim, so I think defensively they are good. You go on down the line and you watch the teams that they play – I don’t like speaking off the top of my head, but from watching them on film, the times that they haven’t had the success that maybe they want to have, I don’t think it’s been because of the defense. I think it’s been they’ve missed shots or haven’t executed as well Cal would want them to execute because they’re so young on the offensive end, but it’s definitely not been because of their defense.”

On where his team is right now emotionally and competitively …
“Our guys have been great. We’re right in the middle of that conference season, and this is the hardest time of the year whether you have winning record or a losing record because the games don’t get easier; they get harder, and so your spirit has to be stronger. Your effort has to be tougher. Your discipline has to be greater. It’s the most difficult time of the year. Our guys have been great. I did a bad job last week. I did an absolute awful job of coaching my team last week and we went out and played that way. I’ve challenged myself to do a better job this week, and hopefully I can get my players to play better.”

On where he came up short last week as a coach …
“It’s our first year here, and I’m asking our players to fight for a culture we’re trying to build every single day. Well, they’ve never had to fight for that culture that we’re asking them to build here, so if I’m not willing to fight for it myself and I’m not willing to hold them accountable to fight for it, then I can’t stand back and say, ‘Well, they didn’t play.’ That’s not fair to the players. I’ve got to do a better job of fighting for the culture that I’m asking them to fight for because they’ve never done it before. And I kind of got too concerned with opponents and the next game last week rather than helping our team continue to find its identity and fight for our culture.”